Saturday, March 12, 2016

Editorial: Trade Ire Boosts Sanders

Bernie Sanders scored an historic upset on March 8 as Michigan voters stood up against neoliberal “free trade” policies that have exported jobs and hollowed out the middle class that the automobile industry helped to create.

Sanders, who had been trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in some polls the week before the primary, invested nearly $2 million in Michigan and worked hard there. He hammered Clinton on her past support for trade deals that workers believe robbed them of well-paying manufacturing jobs, the New York Times reported. One especially effective ad, according to Sanders’ advisers, portrayed Bernie as the only candidate who had consistently opposed the free trade agreements many Michigan voters blame for job losses.

Donald Trump also has criticized US trade policies as a disaster for working-class Americans, though he has been equivocal about what he’d do about it — generally saying he’d negotiate better deals.

According to CNN, 58% of Democratic voters in exit polls said they believe US trade with other countries takes away US jobs, compared with just 30% who said they believe it creates them, Dave Jamieson noted at Among trade critics, Sanders won by a 17-point margin: 58% to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 41%. He won the primary overall by less than two points.

Republican voters were almost as bearish on US trade policy as their Democratic counterparts, Jamieson noted. Fifty-five percent said they believe trade kills US jobs, compared to 32% who said they believe it creates them. Among that group, Trump won twice as many votes as any of his competitors, earning 45% to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 22%, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 20% and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 9%. Overall, Trump won the Michigan primary with about 36% of votes.

Sanders was buoyed by young voters (he got 81% of the 18-29 vote and 53% of those aged 30-44), working-class white Democrats and independents, who are allowed to vote in party primaries in Michigan. He also cut into the overwhelming support Hillary Clinton has enjoyed from black voters in the South, getting 28% of black Michigan voters, compared with 10% of the black vote in Mississippi. That gives Sanders momentum heading to the March 15 primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. Polls show Hillary strong in most of those states — just like she was strong in Michigan. Clinton’s supporters can’t take any of those states for granted, nor can Sanders supporters give up yet.

But Hillary still finished the night of March 8 with 18 more delegates for the day as she swept Mississippi. She now has a 760-546 lead in pledged delegates, needing 2,383 to win.

Markos Moulitsas of noted that running even with Clinton doesn’t get Sanders any closer to the nomination. And since Democratic contests award their delegates proportionately, it’s much harder for Sanders to make big delegate gains, while Republicans are switching to winner-take-all elections on March 15, so delegate counts can switch dramatically overnight. “And with all three wings of the [Republican] party showing viability (tea party/Trump, religious right/Cruz, and establishment/Kasich), Trump has a very real chance of falling short of 50% of delegates,” Moulitsas wrote. “And wouldn’t a brokered GOP convention be fun?

Hillary has moved to the left in response to the challenge from Sanders, and even though she has come out in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, working-class Democrats remember that she promoted the “free trade” pact as secretary of state. Her profitable relationship with Wall Street financiers has been a drag on her campaign, and although she has expressed support for Social Security, Medicare, a living wage and improving the Affordable Care Act, Democrats may feel Sanders is much less likely to compromise on those issues that working people and retirees depend upon than centrist Democrats — including President Obama — who have been willing to talk about “bipartisan” deals with Republican congressional leaders.

Sanders found a receptive audience for his criticism of job-killing “free trade” policies in Michigan. Voters also clearly didn’t buy Hillary Clinton’s attempt to smear Sanders at the Flint, Mich., debate as an opponent of the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler based on his vote against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bailed out the big banks in 2008 and 2009. Sanders had supported the auto bailout before it was added to the bank bailout, which became a bigger bite than he could stomach — particularly when the bailout ended up going ahead anyway.

Keith Hennessy, who was director of the White House National Economic Council staff for President George W. Bush and was heavily involved in the issue, wrote at that Sanders voted on two occasions against TARP bills, on Oct. 1, 2008, and Jan. 15, 2009. At the time of the October 2008 vote, Hennessy said, no one anticipated using TARP funds for the auto industry, so that was not an issue in the October 2008 vote. It was later that Bush and Obama chose to use TARP funds for the auto bailout. When Sanders voted for a resolution to stop the second $350 billion of TARP funds, five days before Obama was inaugurated, Hennessy noted the resolution, which failed 42-52, was meaningless since everyone new that President Bush would have vetoed it if it had passed. “This vote was symbolic, not substantive,” Hennessy wrote.

Hennessy noted that Clinton was technically correct when she said, “If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking four million jobs with it.” But in practice, Hennessy wrote, “these votes were symbolic rather than substantive, and they were symbolically about TARP, not auto loans. Only now, in hindsight, can she frame them as having been about the auto industry. I am glad she voted symbolically the way she did, in support of and defense of TARP, and I disapprove of Senator Sanders’ no vote. But it is absurd for her to claim both that with this vote Senator Sanders chose not to help the auto industry, and that this January no vote could have had any practical negative effect on Michigan.”

But politics ain’t beanbag; Clinton spoke carefully, if misleadingly: “I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference.” And Sanders should have anticipated Clinton’s manipulation of his votes on the auto bailout and he should have had a better answer prepared for the Flint debate. It’s a tribute to Michigan voters that they didn’t fall for Clinton’s misdirection.

Whether or not Sanders can catch up with Clinton, the race has been good for the Democrats and has improved both candidates. But it also shows all Congress members that “free trade” is an explosive issue that can make or break a politician.

President Obama ran for president in 2008 promising to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Instead, Obama’s trade representative negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

After seven years of closed-door negotiations, again excluding union, environmental and consumer advocates from the talks, but including the multinational corporate lobbyists, the final TPP text was released last November. “In chapter after chapter, the final text is worse than expected, with the demands of 500 official US trade advisers representing corporate interests satisfied to the detriment of the public interest.The text reveals that the pact replicates many of the most controversial terms of past pacts that promote job offshoring and push down US wages,” Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reports.

The speculation is that Obama will send the TPP to Congress to be voted on in the “lame duck” session after the November election, under “fast track” rules that require an up-or-down vote without amendments or filibuster. Unions and other concerned groups should make it clear that any Democratic member of Congress who votes for the TPP will face a primary challenger at the next available opportunity. If Tea Party supporters really are interested in protecting American sovereignty, they should make a similar threat on the other side of the aisle.

We generally like President Obama, but on this issue Democrats should respectfully say “no.” — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2016

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Selections from the April 1, 2016 issue

COVER/Heather Digby Parton
No denying Trump’s campaign of racism 

Trade ire boosts Sanders


Jim Brown’s cloudy skies

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Farmers need to make a living

Republicans continue Court obstruction;
Iran: GOP tried to stall prisoner exchange;
Dem chair seeks to relax consumer protections on payday loans;
Low-tax states have lowest economic growth;
Jindal’s anti-tax fervor cripples La.;
Brownback's budget plan failing;
Dems keep control of Ky. House

If ketchup were blood

This Democratic civil war is going to end

All right Mitch, the people will have their say

Lights go out at Lorain Steel Mill

Who would ever agree to be Trump’s VP?

Clinton vs. Trump: First impressions

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Poor programs for poor people

Econ wonks spar over Sanders proposals

Sanders right on free tuition, but wrong argument

Health care’s line in sand

Scalia and SCOTUS coups, past and present

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Tri-national inegration

Get smart TV

Progies honor movies with left themes

The elephant in the race

and more ...